Bread has always been a staple among the Mediterranean populations, as we examined in the past preparing some Greek and Roman recipes, for example artolaganon, hapalos artos, mustacei, and poppy-seed bread.
In the medieval Italian sources, such as De Flore Dietarum (11th century) and Michele Savonarola’s dietetic book (15th century) we find many suggestions to prepare bread properly: it must be well salted and leavened, prepared with white wheat flour, not excessively big or small, well cooked.
We read some of these directions also in a beautiful 14th-century Egyptian cookbook, titled Kanz al-fawāʾid fī tanwīʿ al-mawāʾid, translated by Nawal Nasrallah as Treasure Trove of Benefits and Variety at the Table. This book includes suggestions for the cook, dietetic advice, directions about the properties of toothpicks (made with different kinds of wood), recipes for incenses and perfumes, and preservation of fruit and vegetables, with more than 800 recipes for foods and beverages.
The second chapter of this book collects ten recipes for bread, including the one we are presenting today. Bread must be prepared with white wheat flour, as in the Italian sources, and kneaded for a long time, adding water a bit at a time to obtain a dough not excessively soft nor hard. After leavening, it has to be cooked in the oven at low heat to prevent it either from burning or remaining raw inside. Moreover, the anonymous author recommends leaving the bread to rest for a while, until cooled.
As we have seen in the past, also ancient and medieval Italian bread is usually leavened, being azyme bread considered heavy for the stomach, despite Galen recommends it to the ones who make great exercises. In the Tacuinum Sanitatis, we find the same suggestion. In the case of the recipe we are preparing today, yeast is not mentioned, but given for granted, since the author writes to shape the bread after leavening it.
This book is particularly interesting not only for the recipes, but also the fact that the author provides the quantities of the ingredients, whereas in ancient and medieval Italian cuisine we find rarely the ratio.
In this case, the author writes to use for each raṭl (about one pound) of flour one-third of raṭl of sesame oil, one ūqiyya (about one ounce) of sesame seeds and then pistachios and almonds, one handful. We used a bit more seeds and nuts. When the dough is leavened, we must shape round, two-finger-high bread rolls, then cook them in the oven.
All the ingredients must be kneaded together and let to leaven. To prepare the bread, it is necessary to add water (as explained in the introduction about bread made by the author) and yeast.
This bread was delicious. We did not toast the nuts because the author writes nothing about (as well as he does not mention to cut the seeds with the knife, as we did), but the ones on the surface of the bread were well toasted anyway.
If you want to obtain something different, you can try to change something, for example using just a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil (and adding more water), toasting the nuts, or keeping the nuts whole.
As yeast, we used sourdough. In another part of this cookbook, we find as leavening agents some fermenting dough (khamīra, which means also leavener) obtained by keeping aside a piece of the bread of the previous day (the technique recommended by Pliny almost a millennium and a half before) or preparing a sourdough, but there are mentioned other yeasts, such as one obtained from fermenting a kind of ale (khamīrat al-fuqqāʿī).
To know more about bread and yeast in the Antiquity and Middle Ages, check out our Patreon page, in which you find articles and translations of historical sources, among which the complete text of De Flore Dietarum.
If you are interested in medieval food, check out our new book, with the translation (into English and Italian) and a commentary of the Registrum Coquine, written in the 15th century by Johannes Bockenheim.
If you want to read a book about ancient cuisine, it is available our book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources (Italian edition here).
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Ingredients for four bread-rolls
450 gr white wheat flour
150 ml sesame oil
70 ml warm water
2 tablespoons sourdough
40 gr sesame seeds
40 gr shelled pistachios
40 gr shelled and peeled almonds
Mince the pistachios and almonds coarsely with the knife. Knead the flour with sourdough, a bit of water, and the oil, adding the sesame seeds and nuts.
Let the dough rest overnight. Shape four round, two-finger-high bread rolls and bake them in the oven for about 35 minutes.
When they are cooled down, serve them.
Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-3
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus – first part (6th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano – first and second part (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
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Afrutum or Spumeum – 6th-century Byzantine recipe
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